Australia in the 1770s


In the 1770s, Indigenous people enjoyed wide variety in their diet, including animals, plants and seeds. Australia's climates vary dramatically across the continent and each group understood and exploited their country in different ways, having the intricate knowledge of the climate and environment that was needed to provide enough food for everyone. In particular, important knowledge included understanding winds, seas, clouds and seasonal changes such as particular trees fruiting and animals nesting. Depending on the region, animals included possums, kangaroos, emus, echidnas, bandicoots and lizards. Other foods could include fruits and vegetables, including root vegetables like yams, seeds, small animals and insects such as witchetty grubs, as well as sweeteners such as bush honey and tree sap.

The Noongar people of the south-west corner of Western Australia looked for the older Wandoo tree to find possums, which often made their homes in the hollows of old trees that had been eaten out by termites. The hollow centres became places where small animals could live protected from bigger animals. Noongar people would smoke the possums out of the tree, catching them as they emerged. The Wandoo tree also produces high quality honey. If a person had to climb the tree to capture a fleeing possum or to collect honey from a beehive, they would use an axe to make a notch in the trunk of the tree to support their large toe. In eastern and northern Australia, the sugar glider (gliding possum) and other possums nested in the hollows of trees. The echidna was a favourite delicacy that people usually tracked to logs or under bushes.

Women collected plants, insects and small animals while men hunted bigger animals such as kangaroos, wallabies and emus. Not everyone ate all food. In some coastal areas, boys were not allowed to eat turtles if they were going through initiation, and in some areas the dugong was eaten only by men.

A snapshot of 1778

  • January
    • Captain James Cook began his third Pacific expedition in the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.

  • February
    • France entered the War of American Independence.

  • June
    • Spain declared war on Great Britain.

  • July
    • Louis XIV of France declared war on Great Britain.

  • November
    • Captain James Cook was the first European to sight Maui Island of the Hawaiian Islands.

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